A constant theme of The Iona Institute, indeed one of the chief reasons it was founded, is to point out that family structure matters, and specifically that when mothers and fathers raise their children together, the children are likely to do better in life.
A major new report has just been published in the UK which confirms this. Its subject matter is how well various ethnic minorities are doing compared with their white counterparts. It finds that children from those minorities are now frequently outperforming their white peers educationally.
The report is from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Minorities which was formed last summer in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests. One of the sections in the report is headed ‘Cultural Traditions, Family and Integration’.
It surveys the changes in family structure that have taken place over the past half century, and mostly welcomes them, including a more ready acceptance of divorce and single-parent families.
It approaches the topic almost apologetically, saying, “The Commission is not passing judgement about how people live their lives, nor is it saying ‘two parents are always better than one’. Lone parent families may face greater strain but, if they have the right resources and support available, they can provide just as good a start in life.”
Nonetheless, having reviewed the evidence, the report concludes that while it is emphatically not allocating blame, it must point out that that children “require both time and resources, and that is more likely to be available when both parents play active roles in their upbringing.”
Crucially, it adds: “Governments cannot remain neutral here. We would urge the government to investigate this issue further and look at initiatives that prevent family breakdown”.
Here in Ireland, it is very hard to think of the last time we heard a Government Minister saying we must do more to prevent family breakdown, or to encourage more fathers to get involved in the rearing of their children.
Family breakdown in Ireland has increased by far more than most people seem to know or acknowledge. Divorce remains far lower than in Britain. Nevertheless, according to Census figures, the number of people who have undergone a broken marriage here has increased from around 40,000 in 1986, to about 300,000 today. That figure does not include the children.
The new UK report says there is “a wealth of evidence from the academic literature pointing to a greater likelihood of negative outcomes tied to family breakdown”.
There is little Irish research on the same topic. Researchers seem terrified to go anywhere near the topic, which is probably why most of the evidence to date comes from the US, which is obviously a vast country.
One of the few pieces of Irish research which covers the area, called ‘Cherishing All the Children Equally’, found “that family structure does indeed represent a source of inequality in children’s lives, and places children in single parent households at risk of poorer developmental outcomes” compared with children raised in two parent households.
This is a debate which needs to open up much more in Ireland, but we are probably still years away from having it such is the continued reluctance to go anywhere near the topic.